Primetime Gets a Makeover
Live telecasts, retro look are hooks to shake up the genre
By Allison Romano -- Broadcasting & Cable, 9/19/2004 8:00:00 PM
The new look for ABC News' newsmagazine Primetime Live: retro. Revamped for its 15th season, the show revives its original live format and hard-hitting investigations. And in a nod to the 1960s, the closing segment will be "That Was the Week That Was," a musical political satire modeled on the series that aired on the BBC from 1962 to '63 and on NBC from '64 to '65. The goal, says executive producer Shelley Ross, a former top producer of Good Morning America, is a more contemporary feel than typical newsmagazines.
Translation: Ross is hungry for a broader audience—and she's willing to use sex and celebrities to get it. Broadcast news skews to 50-plus viewers; newsmagazines creep even older. CBS's venerable 60 Minutes targets baby boomers, not the MTV set. Primetime Live isn't going the way of MTV, but upcoming stories include a teen sex survey and an exposé on Americans' sex lives. "If something is important," she says, justifying her decision, "then it's important to everyone."
New anchors Diane Sawyer, Cynthia McFadden, John Quinones and Chris Cuomo will rotate duties each week. To liven the show, new graphics and upbeat music have been added. Ross is hoping the "That Was" segment will create buzz.
Sawyer, who also co-hosts GMA, says she's delighted with the return of live telecasts. But Primetime Live will be selective, says Ross: "We're not going to blow up the show just for the sake of it."
Still, the competition remains fierce. News junkies can turn to cable news networks for their prime time fix. Primetime Live shares the 10 p.m. timeslot with NBC's ER and CBS's popular mystery drama Without a Trace. Its Sept. 16 premiere earned a 1.4 rating in the key 18-49 demo and a 3.9 rating in households. That's down from the 2003 premiere, which got a 3.8. Blame it, in part, on the 90-minute return of The Apprentice.
But Ross isn't fazed.
Earlier in her career, she was a senior producer for Primetime Live, and went head-to-head with L.A. Law. "It was a gorilla of a hit, but we built every year against it," she recalls. Now she's counting on "That Was" and sensational stories to hook viewers. "We have to return to appointment viewing."
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